Where to Learn More About Black History in California

In a cemetery on a back country road near Sacramento, three rows of granite gravestones bear the same inscription: “Unknown, moved from Negro Hill Cemetery by the U.S. Government — 1954.”

The graves hold the remains of 36 settlers from Negro Hill, one of the largest communities of Black miners that sprang up during the Gold Rush. In 1853, the settlement, along the American River about 25 miles northeast of downtown Sacramento, was home to 1,200 people and had a boardinghouse and several shops, according to El Dorado County, which oversees the cemetery.

But much else about the community’s history has been forgotten. That’s because the spot where Negro Hill once stood is now deep under Folsom Lake, flooded and destroyed when the reservoir was created in the 1950s, and because Black history has not gotten its due at state parks and other historic sites in California, according to Susan D. Anderson, the history curator at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.

“All of the Black history that is woven throughout all of these sites was never expressed or interpreted,” Anderson told me. “We’re going to be telling all those stories.”

Anderson is teaming up with the state on a $15 million initiative that will improve research and public education on Black history at more than two dozen California state parks. The project will delve into Negro Hill and other nearby Black Gold Rush settlements, including Black Miners Bar (which the parks department recently renamed) that lie within the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, where shining flecks were first found in 1848. The Gold Rush brought 10,000 Black miners to the Sierra foothills, according to the state parks department.

Though many of these sites may soon be getting an upgrade, there’s still much to learn at important locations for Black history in California. Here are some recommendations:

Allensworth, in the southern San Joaquin Valley, was founded in 1908 as a town that would be entirely financed and governed by African Americans. The man it’s named after, Allen Allensworth, was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1842 and retired in Los Angeles after fighting in the Civil War, earning a doctorate in theology and becoming the first African American to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park preserves his dream, and visitors can see restored and reconstructed buildings from the town.

There’s a mini-park in downtown Los Angeles that honors Biddy Mason, a Black woman born into slavery who became one of the city’s earliest prominent citizens and landowners starting in the 1850s. The Los Angeles Times said she was a “living legend” in those days, who helped found the first Black church in Los Angeles and the first elementary school for Black children.

In the 1840s in what’s now San Diego — part of Mexico at the time — two Black men were prominent members of the community and ran a saloon and dry goods store. Visitors to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park can see a modern reconstruction of the home that Richard Freeman and Allen Light shared. Read more from the San Diego Historical Society on how their remarkable stories were rediscovered decades after their deaths.

For more:

  • Read my Q&A with Anderson, the history curator at the California African American Museum, about Black history in California.

What are the best California movies? “Chinatown”? “Vertigo”? “La La Land”?

Tell us which movie you would put on a California movie list and why. Email us at CAtoday@nytimes.com. Please include your full name and the city in which you live.


Throughout February, and especially on Valentine’s Day, much attention is paid to grand romantic gestures. But smaller, subtler acts of love and attention — like doing the dishes and remembering to say “I love you” — can be just as essential to maintaining strong relationships.

We recently asked Times readers to tell us about the small ways that they express their love each day. From the 1,300 entries we received, we rounded up our favorite 100, including a handful from our California readers, and recorded them in an interactive article all about love.

Readers described acts of service, like picking up a loved one from the airport, and sacrifices, big and small. “For more than 21 years, my husband has given me the last bite of his dessert, always,” Jennifer Grissom, from Los Angeles, writes in one entry.

As the article suggests, there are many ways to show love. But all 100 are sure to warm your heart. Read the full article here.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

Correction: A note to readers in Friday’s newsletter referred incorrectly to Joan Didion’s novel “Play It as It Lays.” It is her second novel, not her first.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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